Cold start for a young immigrant

Valley Voices - The North Thompson winter of 1954 was memorable for bride-to-be

Elli Hoehre’s introduction to the North Thompson Valley in January of 1954

January 1954 was a bitterly cold night when a new immigrant to Canada stepped off the train in Kamloops.  It was dark, and a sharp icy north wind was blowing into the face of Elli Hoehre as she stood on the platform of the train station.  She was chilled through, and feeling forlorn and lost in this new country.   A country where she only knew one person, her fiancé, who had come to Canada just over a year earlier.

But relief and excitement quickly replaced her dark mood when her husband to be, Otto Kohnert, was suddenly beside her, taking young Elli into his arms.

Once the greetings and excitement had slowed down, Otto introduced Elli to Johnny Uppenborn, who had driven Otto in from Darfield in the North Thompson Valley, to pick Elli up.

Elli says she was “horrified” when the two men told her they were expected to stop in at Dr. and Mrs. Walles’ home in Kamloops before heading to Darfield, as the couple were eager to meet their new nanny from Germany.  Elli could only comment in shock, “What, go to the home of my new employer at midnight?” This was a complete breach of good manners in the eyes of the newly landed German girl.


But Johnny told her, “Don’t fret, you are in Canada now, we do things a bit different here.”

So off they went to the doctor’s home, where Elli had an introductory meeting with Mrs. Walles, which proved slightly complicated due to the fact that Elli could only speak a few words of English.  However, much to her relief, the three were soon on the road up the North Thompson where Elli would start her life in Canada with the Uppenborn’s and Otto, as she adjusted to this vast country and a brand new page  of her life.


The cold was so sharp it could take your breath away that first week in January of ’54.  Snow covered everything, including Highway 5, which was just a winding unpaved road back then.

As Elli sat between the two men on the way to her new home, she was stunned by the winter landscape she was being transported into, it looked like an endless land of ice and snow.  The temperature was hovering around minus -40° degrees Fahrenheit, and the snow was reaching above her knees, but then, she was only 5’2” tall.

They arrived at the Uppenborn’s Darfield farm in the wee small hours of the morning, and it was not long before everyone had settled down to sleep.

When Elli awoke and looked out the window, she saw that the moon was still out along the hills across the valley,  it was starting to get light outside.  Elli wondered where everyone was at 6:00 a.m. in the morning?

As she looked out the window Elli saw Gertrude Uppenborn just going into the milking barn carrying a coil lantern. It was still cold outside, really cold; Gertrude’s frozen breath looked like a tiny cloud on her face. Elli opened the front door to call to her, but just as quickly closed it again; the cold seemed to bite at her face as soon as it touched her.

Once the milking had been completed, and all the other chores done in the barn, it was time for the people to have breakfast.  Johnny was the cook that morning, and Elli, being a city person, was amazed how quickly everything was prepared on the kitchen’s wood stove.  There was no electricity in the North Thompson Valley back in 1954, but the wood stove kept the room cozy and comfortable as everyone gathered around the big table for Elli’s first breakfast in Canada.

However, once the meal was completed Elli was told there were more outdoor chores to take care of.

Johnny thought it was a good idea to get Elli off to a good start in her new country, minus -40° below or not! She was to go out and feed the beef cows in the field with him, as Otto was already busy looking after fire wood duty that morning.

Everyone helped to get Elli so bundled up in warm clothes she could hardly move, and then off they went loading hay bales onto a trailer, which was hitched to a tractor and driven across Highway 5 to a field where the cows were already eagerly waiting.  Elli’s job was to cut the strings on a bale, and toss the hay off the trailer to the cows as Johnny slowly drove the tractor along.  Throwing hay proved to be a bit much for the new farm girl, so Johnny told her to drive the tractor.

Elli was speechless – she had no idea how to do that.

“No problem”, said Johnny, “Just sit here and hold the steering wheel still and keep your foot on the gas, but not too hard.”  To Elli’s amazement, she managed to drive the big tractor, and everything worked out without incident.  But she was glad that Johnny took over when the trailer was empty, and drove them back to the house.

Otto was all smiles to find his bride to be had been properly initiated into country life, and told her, with a big smile on his face, “Guess you’ll do okay in Canada”.

Now that all the chores had been done, and everyone, both human and livestock had been fed, Elli and Otto were finally able to spend some time together in the warm friendly living room of the farm house; then happily caught up on what had been happening in each of their lives after 14 months of separation.

The young couple were content to sit together and look out the window at the beautiful snow-covered landscape of a Canadian winter.  The warmth of the house, and warmth of their love for each other, gave Elli a feeling of contentment and happiness, as she and Otto celebrated their first day together in a lifelong adventure of living in the North Thompson Valley.

Although the beauty of the area was inviting them out for a walk, both agreed it would be prudent to leave that for another time, mostly due to the fact the young German immigrant’s short stature could place her in danger of disappearing into one of the numerous deep snow drifts that Old Man Winter had brought to the valley for the new year of 1954!

* Editor’s note:  Just over one year later, Elli and Otto became man and wife.  They will be celebrating their 58th wedding anniversary in April of this year where they now reside in the North Thompson community of Barriere.


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